A lip-syncing app teens are obsessed with just got bought for ~$1 billion — here’s how to use Musical.ly

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I remember the days of coming home from school and tuning into MTV’s “TRL,” a program that counted down the top music videos in front of screaming mobs of adolescent girls.

Today, teens are finding the same guilty pleasure in an app. Musical.ly is a video network app, where users – or “musers,” as they’re called – create 15-second videos of themselves lip-syncing and dancing along to popular music. You can “heart” videos and create digital duets with your “BFFs,” or people you follow and who follow you back.

More than 150 million people, mostly teens, have registered, and its growth has caused others to take note.

On Thursday, Chinese social media giant Toutiao announced that it had purchased Musical.ly in a deal valued up to $1 billion, according to TechCrunch.

So how’s it work? After talking with a handful of middle schoolers for Musical.ly tips, I entered the mysterious world of teen-tech to see what the buzz is all about. If the demographic isn’t abundantly clear from scrolling through the featured videos, the app also reminds you of its target user during sign-up, when it enters 2000 as the default birth year.

Here are the basics.


When you open the Musical.ly app, it defaults to a feed of featured videos.

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musical.ly and Melia Robinson/Tech Insider

These are often the coolest, most liked videos of the day. The Featured feed is also a good place to find inspiration.

Users, or “musers,” include the hashtag #featureme in their posts in order to be discovered by the app’s curators.


You can switch to the Follow tab, which shows you videos from the musers you follow.

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musical.ly and Melia Robinson/Tech Insider

A majority of teens I talked to said they prefer the Follow tab to Feature. That way, they can easily see what content comes from their friends, as opposed to randoms on the internet.

Being 10 years older than most musers, I don’t have many friends on the app. I followed mainstream celebrities like Selena Gomez, Jason Derulo, and Ariana Grande.


Here’s what a typical Musical.ly video looks like.

#Twins ???????? Song: what makes you beautiful ~ one direction ????

A post shared by Lisa and Lena | Germany® (@lisaandlena) on

Identical twins Lisa and Lena, from Germany, have racked up more than 13.7 million followers on Musical.ly and run one of the fastest growing Instagram accounts.

The teens joined Musical.ly in 2015, and their videos have since soared in production quality, thanks to lighting, choreography, and matching outfits from their own clothing line.


There are some very talented dancers on Musical.ly, as well.

Tag 3 friends if you like this vid!❤️✌????️

A post shared by Joseph (@josephansara) on


An increasing number teens are uploading comedy skits, like social media star Jake Paul’s dub of Drake’s song, “Child’s Play.”

When you Drake af @jakepaul @alissaviolet

A post shared by musical.ly (@musical.ly) on


Every Musical.ly video displays the muser’s username, a caption, and the name of the song and artist.

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musical.ly and Melia Robinson/Tech Insider

The caption is often packed with hashtags.

Just as hashtags trend on Twitter, “challenges” go viral on Musical.ly. Users upload videos of themselves performing a task, like dabbing for the #DabChallenge, and include the appropriate hashtag.

You can tap the hashtag to see more.


You can also see how popular the video is.

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musical.ly and Melia Robinson/Tech Insider

Hearts are the “Likes” of Musical.ly. (How could you not love a dancing cat named Oreo?)

Comments allow users to leave messages on others’ videos.

And if you like what you see, you can click Profile to watch more content by the user.


Your profile is a space to personalize your account.

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musical.ly and Melia Robinson/Tech Insider

Users write a little bio and upload a photo to complete their Profile.

The crown next to Lisa and Lena’s pic indicates that they are a top performer on the app.

Fans can subscribe to Notifications to receive an alarm whenever their favorite users post a new video.


Ready to get started? Click the yellow plus-button.

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musical.ly and Melia Robinson/Tech Insider

Don’t be intimidated.

All the kids are doing it.


You can shoot a video and upload it to the app or start from scratch.

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musical.ly

If you want to create a compilation video of your footage from a family vacation, your best bet is to upload videos from your phone’s library.

Since I was prepared to shoot and publish in a one-two punch, I opted to “pick music” and record, rather than use my phone’s native camera app.


Musical.ly hosts an online library of the top hits to choose from.

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musical.ly

Songs are sorted by genre and theme, such as hip-hop, comedy, movie dialogue, and chart-toppers. Each clip lasts about 15 to 30 seconds.


You can also select from your phone’s music library.

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musical.ly

The advantage in using music from your own library is that you can pick the exact 15-second excerpt you’d like to dub. If you pick from Musical.ly’s library, you’re limited to the excerpt they make available.


I found one of the few jams I know the words to: R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix).”

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musical.ly

I didn’t imagine many teens would know the song, as it played at my middle school dances. However, R. Kelly’s hit was filed under “lip-sync classic.”


I turned to Google Play Music for a quick refresher on the lyrics.

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Google Play

“So baby give me that toot toot.”

“Let me give you that beep beep.”

Got it.


In shooting mode, you have a number of tools at your fingertips to help you capture the moment.

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musical.ly and Melia Robinson/Tech Insider

Using the Scroll to trim music feature, I could sample the song at different starting points.

Most users hit Reverse camera to use the selfie-facing lens. I did the same.

If you prefer to step back and show both hands in the frame, you can press Timer and the camera will start capturing video five seconds later.

Face filters, like those on Snapchat, let you place fun animations over your face.

To record, hold down the pink button with the camera icon.


I had a little fun with the face filters.

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musical.ly and Melia Robinson/Tech Insider

With a few taps, I transformed from a unicorn to a Coachella queen to a character from “Cats the Musical.”

Unfortunately, Musical.ly doesn’t offer nearly as many filters as Snapchat.


Don’t overthink it. Just shoot.

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musical.ly and Melia Robinson/Tech Insider

Most teens I spoke with said that, rather than rehearse in the mirror, they will just shoot the video over and over until they get it right. Practice makes perfect.

It took me four takes performing R. Kelly’s “Igniton (Remix)” before I was satisfied.


You’re almost ready to publish!

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Like Instagram, Musical.ly provides post-production editing tools to help your video look its best.

Filters alter the color, contrast, and saturation of your videos to create a certain mood.

If you want to play your video in reverse (while the music plays normally), Time machine lets you fuss with the playback.

Don’t forget to write a caption. Including popular hashtags can help you earn hearts.


Once you click to post, Musical.ly prompts you to share the video with your friends on other social networking apps.

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musical.ly and Melia Robinson/Tech Insider

Teens told me they often share their videos to Instagram to get more eyes on their content. I did the same.


Unfortunately, your caption and the credit given to the artist don’t automatically transfer to Instagram.

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musical.ly and Melia Robinson/Tech Insider

Musical.ly displays this message reminding users to credit the song and artist in their Instagram posts. Hopefully they will roll out a better solution soon.


If you passed on the first chance, you can add a filter via Instagram.

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musical.ly and Melia Robinson/Tech Insider

Instagram’s filter game dominates that of Musical.ly. Their filters have more variety and can be customized for a more muted appearance.

The app also lets you select a cover image for your post that Instagram users will see when they scroll past it.


I re-wrote my caption, making sure to credit the song and artist.

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musical.ly and Melia Robinson/Tech Insider

It was go-time. Start the ignition.


Voilà! Here’s my first Musical.ly video.

Made my first musical.ly! Do you think the kids will know this song? 😉 #ignition #rkelly

A post shared by Melia Robinson (@meliarobin) on